A year or so ago I heard about a father, who after getting frustrated with his son being stuck in front of a computer all day, wanted to show him that real life was more exiting than the computer games. To make his point the father took his son hunting with eagles from the back of ponies in the mountains of Tibet. All I could think of at the time was that, if that is how far you have to go to beat the computer games, then frankly his son was right; the games are more fun than life.
The problem is, if sedentary pass-times are so much more appealing than anything physically active, we are destined to have a generation of young people unfit, unhealthy and likely to die young.
The problem with this scenario is that I don’t believe it. I don’t believe that all young people are going to be forever stuck indoors on a computer or in front of the TV with an almost endless variety of programs available.
When I go to the Gym I see many youngsters of 16 – 20. Bicycle sales must be at an all time high and all the young people I know personally seem to be concerned/interested in getting/staying fit. They take an interest in nutrition and make sure they do enough exercise. Perhaps we have passed a watershed. Perhaps things had already gone too far, hit the bottom and are turning back up. Film-stars and other youth role models are getting fitter.
The issue might be this. Role models are for young adults and adolescents to emulate; not for prepubescent children. It is only when they see themselves becoming adult that they begin to actively strive to be like a particular stereotype. But that creates its own problem as adolescents look for stereotypes that they have a chance of achieving, as the goal gets raised higher and higher, all but the very gifted will fall away. Over the years I have seen so many young guys killing themselves in a gym to look like a serious body builder, they look at The Rock Johnson or similar and look at themselves in the mirror after 6 months of hard work and realize, its never going to happen, and they give up. If a goal is set too high, if a target gets too far away, if it appears unachievable, we give up. And of course, even the models don’t look like the models; photo shop can really work wonders.
It sounds like I’m suggesting that young people have one overriding motivation; a shallow cosmetic desire to be attractive. Well yes of course. Don’t get me wrong, of course they will do stuff just to have fun, but the fragile self esteem of the young is hugely linked to their physical appearance and ability. One might say that ‘vanity’, if one wanted to be harsh, or ‘image’, to be less judgmental, is always a factor in the choices that young adults make. Unless they arrive at puberty so far from any ideal body shape or competitive level of fitness, that they give up. Like a flabby amphibian dragging itself out of the water it its bid for evolution, taking one look at the elegant gazelles and thinking, forget it, I’ll stay down here in the mud.
Which brings us to the very young, the prepubescent children. These are too young to be striving for an adult ideal. They just want to do what is fun. But this age group have always been the easiest to get involved in physical activates. This is where parents and schools can make the most impact. I hear a lot about teaching younger children the advantages of good nutrition. My gut reaction is that the knowledge of invisible, inaudible and tasteless vitamins will have little impact on choice compared to actual observable colour and actual experience-able taste. Eating healthy is about habit at a young age and example. If parents eat healthy food, how will their kids eat anything else, (unless 3 year olds start getting part time jobs to buy their own sweets). How simple is this! If you don’t want your kids eating refined sugar, don’t buy refined sugar. If you want them to get a taste for vegetables and fruit, buy vegetables and fruit. If you want your kids to play games outside and be physically active, then take them outside to play games and be physically active. Very young children want to be like their parents, it’s one of their earliest and strongest drives.
School should really be a pleasant continuation of their early home life. Playing physically active games outside should be a normal thing in schools. Serving healthy foods should be the norm. I keep saying ‘should’, but its important to know that kids will do what their parents have taught them rather than what the schools proposes. Schools have little power to counteract parents. They often wish they did. I remember parents asking me to speak to their child about one thing or another, because their child wouldn’t listen to them! Not a chance. I recall a parents’ evening, a parent complaining that their child would never read a book, but just watch TV. I had to ask the parent, how long in a typical day do they read a book, (especially in from of the child) they replied that they hadn’t read a book since they left school themselves. I wanted to shout, ‘well congratulation, you’ve raised a child just like you’ (I didn’t say it)
You want healthy kids, be healthy.